Fort Worth builds parking lot for pool that's closed for the summer

FORT WORTH -- The city spent almost $38,000 to build a new parking lot at the Lake Como Park neighborhood pool, even though the pool is closed this summer and could be closed for the foreseeable future.

The project was part of a $407,000 competitive bid awarded under a voter-approved bond program to contractor McClendon Construction of Burleson. The bid also covered parking lot improvements at Lake Como Park, Northside Community Center, Diamond Hill Community Center and the Haws Athletic Center -- places that are open, officials said.

The pool parking lot was in poor condition and needed to be replaced for whenever the pool reopens, Richard Zavala, parks and community services director, explained in an e-mail. The lot also provides overflow parking for the nearby Lake Como Park lot, he wrote. He did not return phone calls.

The new 16-space parking lot, built a few weeks ago, improves the look of the area, said Dorothy DeBose, who chairs the Como Neighborhood Advisory Council. But she wonders whether the money could have been better spent.

"If you're going to close the swimming pool, why worry about the parking lot?" DeBose asked. "Maybe that money should have been invested in doing something to the pool to keep it open."

City officials closed Lake Como and five other pools to cut costs, leaving the Forest Park Pool as the only city pool open this summer. And the Forest Park Pool may close at any time because its liner is ripping. Residents can use the Eastside, E.R. Van Zandt Southwest and Westside YMCA pools from 2 to 4 p.m. daily through Aug. 21, and the McDonald Community YMCA pool during those hours every day except Sunday.

Voters approved the parking lot projects in 2004 as part of a $273 million bond package. In September, the City Council approved a $528 million operating budget, a $10 million reduction from the previous year, that closed most pools. About the same time, bids were being collected for the parking lots.

With an expected $77 million budget gap for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, doubts exist that the Lake Como pool will open next summer. In fact, closing all the pools is under consideration, city budget officer Horatio Porter said.

Bond programs

Given a change in circumstances, can voter-approved bond programs also change?

Under a city policy, bond money "cannot be arbitrarily diverted from one project to another," Zavala wrote. Surplus dollars could be considered, he wrote.

The city allocated $593,000 for the four parking lot projects, including $78,000 for the Lake Como Pool lot, Zavala wrote. The actual cost of the lot came in at $37,913.

The total bid came in at $407,000, presumably leaving $186,000 to spend. But on Thursday, city officials could not determine whether that money was available or spent on related costs.

McClendon Construction owner Dan McClendon said the city took advantage of historically low prices because of the slow economy. His company's $407,000 offer last September was the lowest of nine bids, according to city documents.

Outliving budget crisis

McClendon said he took the job to keep his workers working but doubts that he made a profit.

He said the concrete parking lot will last for more than 50 years and meet newer legal requirements for people with disabilities.

"This parking lot will long outlive the budget crisis," said McClendon, a Burleson city councilman.

Fort Worth Councilman Carter Burdette, who represents the neighborhood, could not be reached for comment this week about whether this situation signals any wider issues that need to be explored.

So now the obvious question remains about why improvements were made to a facility that's closed because of budget problems.

"It is kind of strange that you would go up and do the parking lot when you closed the swimming pool," DeBose said.

GENE TRAINOR, 817-390-7419